EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Traffic-addled Airport Circle motorists may have to wait even longer for relief as one of the solutions officials are banking on, a direct connector to the Atlantic City Expressway, won’t be completed for at least three years.
Last month’s re-timed lights and new signage will be the last substantial upgrades as Atlantic County tries to divert traffic from the much-maligned intersection.
Officials say the redesigned intersection of Delilah Road, Tilton Road and Amelia Earhart Boulevard has reduced accidents despite increased wait times for those entering the circle. They say the focus is now on opening alternate routes for the 650 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center who back up at the redesigned circle about 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day.
Those efforts have been thwarted thus far by an ongoing dispute with the South Jersey Economic Development District over a padlocked access road through the planned NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park to Delilah Road. Meanwhile, the direct connector between Atlantic City International Airport and the expressway is currently unfunded and at least three years from completion.
County Engineer Joe D’Abundo said the goal of the Airport Circle redesign — which opened in November to sharp criticism from motorists — was to reduce accidents. That goal has been achieved, he said.
“The main intent was not to get people out of the Tech Center any faster, which you can’t do with just one driveway,” D’Abundo said. “(The problem) was there before, and it’s there now — the only difference is it’s slower for people trying to get out because they’re controlled by signals now.”
Last month, the lights were re-timed to “give everyone a fair amount of time on the signal,” D’Abundo said. Signs were also installed around the circle, instructing motorists on which lanes to use.
He said these will be the last substantial changes until the South Jersey Transportation Authority’s connector project begins, but that may not solve the problem, either.
“Keep in mind, you’ll still have a lot of people getting out of one location,” he said.
County Executive Dennis Levinson said he’s come to accept the new circle after discussions with county engineers and Dewberry, the Fairfax, Va.-based engineering firm that designed the project.
“The engineers tell me it’s working exactly how it’s supposed to be,” he said. “I still don’t like it, but I can’t argue with professionals.”
Egg Harbor Township Police Chief Michael Morris did not respond to a request for comment. Police statistics were not immediately made available.
Levinson said the NextGen access road, which was financed through $2.5 million the county contributed to infrastructure improvements, could siphon some of the traffic from around the circle.
According to the 2008 traffic report commissioned by the SJEDD, 15 percent of traffic leaving the complex travels east — and could potentially avoid the circle — while the rest would still need to use the circle.
That number, Levinson said, is not insignificant.
“It certainly would alleviate the rush hour traffic that’s coming through there,” he said.
D’Abundo said the access road would still be useful, even if some of the vehicles using it may still need to travel through the circle.
“If they’re heading westbound on Delilah, it’s easier than going out to the circle,” he said. “If you can break off even a portion of the traffic of those employees leaving at the same time ... it’s going to reduce the problem.”
Assistant County Counsel Anthony Pagano said the SJEDD still hasn’t responded to a proposed agreement that would indemnify the district and allow for the opening of the access road.
On Feb. 17, the county sent the agreement to the SJEDD attorneys again, along with a bill for the $82,900 balance for curbing, drainage and landscaping the county completed for the road.
SJEDD Executive Director Gordon Dahl said the county’s proposal is being reviewed by the district’s legal counsel. He said the roadway should be reinspected after pavement tests found the road deficient.
Dahl declined to comment further on the access road or its possible use.
Levinson said he expects the airport connector, which will be completed by the SJTA, to alleviate the traffic problem around the circle.
“Once the bypass is there, there will be no more complaints by anybody,” he said.
The primary reason for keeping the circle, Levinson said, was to account for the fifth leg, Amelia Earhart Boulevard. The connector would eliminate the need for that road, he said.
But that may not come soon enough for motorists.
Samuel Donelson, deputy executive director of the SJTA, said the connector could begin construction next year. With a construction period of between 18 and 24 months, it could open in 2015.
But the $40 million-to-$50 million project is currently unfunded, he said.
“It’s a high-ticket project, so we’ll have to go through (the budget) process, looking at that as well as what other projects we have as we go forward with a capital plan,” he said.
While the design and permitting process for the connector is already under way, Donelson said funding such a large project could push its completion date past 2015.
“As we develop the capital plan next year, we’ll be looking at all possible funding sources,” he said. “We have to beat the bushes.”
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